Dayashankar Pandey Interview
After substantial roles in several films and as a popular face of Chalu Pandey in the longest running serial, Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma, Dayashankar Pandey is as humble and polite as any newcomer. Pandey began his career as a backstage worker and gradually grew to his current status as a credible actor. Having acted in plays like MAREEZ, BHEEKHMANGE, POPKORN WITH PARSAI, SUITABLE BRIDE, BANDHUVABHAMASHAH, EKSHUFF, despite his tryst with the big screen he still yearns for good work on the stage. Pandey has effortlessly acted in Hindi, Gujarati and English plays and even Marathi plays during his college days. In a candid interview Pandey shares his career details and the struggle that was there before and still continues.

 By Jahnavi Pal

"I always wanted to join NSD (National School Of Drama) but unfortunately fate had other plans," he begins. "But during my college days in Mumbai I would actively participate in college plays. In those days there were a lot of drama competitions happening and I was fortunate to be a part of that movement. I won and lot of medals and prizes in these competitions which kept the fire in me burning of wanting to join NSD. During that time I used to meet many NSD actors like Irrfan Khan and they inspired me to become a good actor. In fact a lot of people think I am from NSD as I would hang out with NSD actors. My dream then was to make it in films though my passion was always theatre."

During his college days he did some very good plays like BHEEKH MANGE and BANDHUVA which got him a lot of critical acclaim. "I recall a very embarrassing moment during one of my college play performances," he reminisces. "I was a hero in college as I was doing a lot many plays and bringing back medals and awards. Noticing my talent a director forced me to do an English play. I had only a five-line dialogue in this play but I was very bad even with this. It so happened that I was to sit on one end of the stage and wait for my cue to say those five lines. And I fell asleep on stage. As a result I missed my lines and gave the wrong cue to me co-actor who got so confused that we messed it up totally."

Pandey graduated in 1989 and joined Mahendra Joshi. In those days only Satyadev Dubey and Mahendra Joshi were doing good theatre. Joshi lived close to my house but I was afraid of approaching him as I had heard he was a very strict teacher. I was equally scared of Dubey and had often gone to watch his rehearsals but from afar. One day it so happened that I met him in the train and I mustered up courage and went up to him. I requested him to take me under his wings. He asked if I was an actor and when I said yes he said he was doing a Gujarati play called MOJILA MANILAL but he didn't have any role for me.

Nonetheless he asked me to meet him the next day and he told me to assist him with backstage work. I started by getting tea, running other such errands but I was quite happy doing this as I could observe him and learn the craft. Moreover it was a depressing phase for me as I had graduated from college but didn't have any work. This gave me an opportunity to keep busy with something that I was passionate about. I was struggling with getting a break and would meet people with my photographs but never got any break. Mahendra Joshi liked my passion and sincerity with my backstage work. In fact he often told me he like my voice and wanted to someday do HAMLET with me. If not that, he said he would at least do OTHELLO but unfortunately he passed away and this never happened. At that time he was opening TOKHAR at the Prithvi Festival and I was in charge of all his plays that were happening at that time-- MOJILA MANILAL, KHELAIYA and TOKHAR in Gujarati and EKSHUFF in Hindi. I was very happy as I felt responsible and he too was very satisfied with my work. He would advise me to read a lot and would tell me that if I read well at least I would someday end up being an educated paanwala! I miss him a lot as he was an excellent teacher who taught me a lot. But thanks to him at one point in time I was the highest paid backstage worker."

Pandey goes on to share an interesting anecdote during his struggling days. "Once I was rehearsing for EKSHUFF with Shafibhai (Inamdar) where I was read lines to him and give him his cues when Joshi asked me to learn by rote the lines of a character. I was so excited that i started performing and he liked it so much that he asked me to do the show. Now it so happened that Feroz Khan had done this role earlier. He had just returned from London and he asked Joshi if he could do the play. Joshi told him that I had rehearsed for the play and that I should continue. But Feroz requested me if I would let him do two shows and then I could once again take over. I agreed. But he was so thrilled with the response from the audiences that he kept doing one show after another. It was my misfortune that though I had rehearsed for this role I ended up playing one the horses in the play. I couldn't argue as I was a struggler and my financial condition was very bad so I continued playing the horse. I was required to wear 1.5 kilo heavy iron cast legs of the horse and a mask weighing 500 gms throughout the play. This was how I started my stint in commercial theatre."

Pandey soon moved on to the big screen where he debuted with a film called Pehla Nasha. Though he was promised that he would be in four scenes he ended up being seen only in one scene and that too in a long shot! Not one to give up Pandey continued to struggle and soon he did two children's films, Papiha and Chakachak with Sai Paranjpye. "It was a beautiful film and soon got picked up for other good films like Swades, Lagaan, Gangajal, Rajneeti. It was after Lagaan that things got easier. I cannot say my struggle has ended. Even today if there is a new casting director I am made to go through an audition as they don't know if I can act. But I must confess that even after so many years my love for theatre never waned. In fact if someone would take care of my domestic expenses I would get back to theatre full time. I am always hungry for good plays. Probably it was this yearning that got me the literary play POPCORN WITH PARSAI. A one-man show it was a dream role for any actor, I did 48 shows and all of them were housefull. It is a one hour- 60 minute play where I am on stage throughout and hold my audience with my energy, voice and magnetic stage presence. I wish to revive this play after this pandemic so that more and more get to see it. Another good play was MAREEZ which I did with Manoj Shah. I played the role of Manto . Then I did BHAMASHAH which was one of my favourite roles on stage. In 1995 I did a good play with Naushil Mehta called A SUITABLE BRIDE which was produced by Manhar Gadhia. Though it was a small role it was appreciated."

Pandey's heart beats for stage, but what upsets the actor is the 'quality' of audiences that come to watch Hindi plays. "When I invite anyone to watch a Hindi play they ask if I am giving them a pass. But when I invite people for Gujarati or English plays they never ask for a pass. They buy the tickets. I hope this will change soon."

*Jahnavi Pal is a journalist, writer and theatre buff

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